Have you ever fancied finding a treasure or an artifact of historical importance or even something of value buried hundreds of years ago?

Well, if you have, you are not alone. Every year thousands of people get into the growing hobby of metal detecting. It is arguably one of the fastest growing hobbies that combine the spirit of adventure and thrill.

Apart from a great hobby, metal detecting has been extremely useful in archaeology and even in the military. If you are planning to take on this fascinating hobby and prepared to take up an adventurous journey, you have come to the right place. In this guide, I will be going through all the things that you need to know to cultivate and enjoy metal detecting. I am sure that after reading this post, you will be well on your way to becoming a true ‘metal detectorist’!(Sorry I don’t give out badges!)

History of metal detecting

Let’s begin at the beginning. Did you know that the first metal detector was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in the 1800s? Yes, you read it right, the genius behind the telephone was also behind the modern metal detectors! He invented a metal detector to find the bullet that killed President James Garfield. Although he was not able to find the bullet, he ended up opening doors to a fascinating world of metal detecting.

Ever since Graham Bell’s first metal detector, the technology has evolved tremendously and the modern detectors are quite sophisticated and precise. Today, you can pick up a detector for a few hundred dollars and get treasure hunting!

Yes, you read it right, the genius behind the telephone was also behind the modern metal detectors


What can a metal detector actually find?

Well, when it comes to metal detecting, the possibilities are endless. A good metal detector can detect almost any coin-sized metal that is buried underground as deep as a foot. If you bump into a treasure chest, the detector can detect it even if it is several feet beneath the ground. People have found a variety of things buried in the ground from coins, buttons, metal toy and even civil war-era bullets and in some cases actual treasure as well!

How does a metal detector work?

Well, without going into too much of a technical detail, a metal detector works on electromagnetic principle. Although there are many makes and models of metal detectors on the market, they have essentially the same basic parts- a coil, and a sensory mechanism.

The coil is used to send a magnetic wave into the ground. When this wave strikes natural things such as rocks and soil, nothing happens, however, when it strikes a metal, a small amount of electricity is generated which triggers the sensory mechanism of the machine and produces some kind of a feedback, most commonly an audio signal. The detectorist can then pinpoint the location of the ‘source’ and dig out that buried treasure! It is as simple as that.

Which detector should I buy?

The market is filled with many makes and models of metal detectors. At times, it can be really difficult to pick one, especially if you are a beginner. You can buy a metal detector from a few hundred dollars to upwards of $2000. Naturally, the quality of the detectors will vary with the price tag. The more expensive ones tend to be more sensitive while the cheaper ones, not so much. Also, some detectors are not waterproof and hence you can’t use them under water.

In general, the commercially available metal detectors can be divided into the following three types:

  1. VLF detectors

These are also called Very Low Frequency (hence VLF) detectors. They can be used in both salt and fresh water and of course on land. There are many models that are geared to work best on beaches or underwater. The detector works only if the coil is kept in a continuous motion and hence they are also called motion detectors. The detector beeps once it passes over the target. They get a little bit of getting used to but its quite easy to master.

  1. Pulse induction detectors

These are great for hunting in salt water and have a very wide range. They can detect a target that is buried quite deep into the ground. These detectors are designed to cancel out the mineral content of the ocean water and beach and hence are great for searches around oceans or highly mineralized soil. Unfortunately, they are not great at differentiating between junk and Iron so, you may end up digging for junk for quite some time! As I mentioned, they are quite sensitive, but you need some practice to listen to the beeps. Which I am sure you can get in a couple of months!

  1. Multi-frequency detectors

These are the most expensive of the three and combine the best of both the worlds. They can scan a number of frequencies and as a result, they are good at avoiding minerals and junk better. If you are a beginner, you can avoid these detectors and stick to the first two for the time being. Once you get proficient and want to explore more, maybe think about upgrading your equipment.

What should I look for?

Now, this a great question. There are literally hundreds of metal detectors out there. So, it is important to understand what to look for when buying one.

While choosing your equipment is quite personal, there are certainly some things that you should pay attention to.

  • Size of the coil

As I pointed out earlier, the coil is used to send magnetic waves into the ground. In general, the bigger the coil, the better is the sensitivity. The coils are measured in inches and the larger the coil, the better.

  • What are you looking for?

Most of the detectors that are on the market are what I call ‘general purpose’ detectors. They can detect anything from a coin to rings to jewelry. If you are seeking for artifacts and relics, look for a detector that can sense objects that are deeper. On the other hand, if you are looking for natural gold such as nuggets or gold flakes, you might want a detector that operates at a higher frequency. Gold is slightly more difficult to detect using a standard detector and hence you may want to use one that is specifically designed for finding gold.

  • Location of your hunt

The location is also important. If you are looking to hunt on a beach, in the ocean or on highly mineralized soil, you need a detector that can eliminate the interference. Also, if you want to search under water, the detector needs to be submerged in water and naturally, it needs to be waterproof.

  • Your experience

As you are a novice to the metal detecting game, it is always best to stick to a detector that is easy to operate. Most of the commercial detectors are fairly easy to operate and often come with an exhaustive guide. So, don’t worry even if you have never held one before, it won’t be long before you will be wielding your metal detector like a pro. Just stick to the basics and get one that has a LED screen and a headphone.

  • Your budget

Budget is, of course, something that you have to look at. I mean if you are a beginner, I won’t suggest you buy a $2000 equipment unless you have that kind of money just lying around! Anyway, try to get the best detector that is within your budget. I like to think it as an investment. Think about the thrill and adventure that you will get when you find something cool!

If you are looking to hunt on a beach, in the ocean or on highly mineralized soil, you need a detector that can eliminate the interference.

What should you take with you while detecting?

Now that you have chosen your detector, its time to go do the actual hunting! Here are some important things that I always carry on me and would suggest you do the same.

Wear clothes that are comfortable and suited for the weather, I know it sounds silly, but trust me, you can easily loose track of time while treasure hunting and the last thing that you want is uncomfortable clothes.

Another thing that you will need is a digging tool. Once you detect something, you need to dig it out and a good shovel comes in real handy.

Also, remember to carry some water and a cleaning brush to clean the artifact that you just found. This is a great tip as you can eliminate any junk right then and there and don’t have to lug it around all day.

I also like to carry some zip-lock bags with me to keep my ‘findings’ so that I can examine them at my convenience.


General tips for metal detecting for beginners

Now that you are armed with your metal detector and have all the accouterments with you, it’s time to get exploring. Here are some tips that will surely come in handy in the field:

Swinging the detector properly

Swinging the metal detector properly can be a difference between a successful and a failed outing. Most of the newbies make the mistake of swinging the detector too fast. The correct way to do it is ‘low and slow’. Meaning, you need to move the detector slowly as close to the ground as possible without actually touching the ground. If you swing too fast, you will surely miss smaller objects. The same is true if you keep the detector coil too far away from the ground. With a little practice, you will get the hang of doing it just right.

The correct way to do it is ‘low and slow’. Meaning, you need to move the detector slowly as close to the ground

Digging properly

Once you have pinpointed the location of your target, it’s time to excavate it out. The aim is to dig for your find leaving no trace that you disturbed the ground. Using big shovels will disturb the whole area and which is not good. After all, you want to return to the ground, right? Don’t be that guy who digs a 5 feet hole to find a penny. Use the proper digging tools and put all the soil back to into the hole. Please don’t leave a giant crater behind!

Research your locations before you start exploring

The location is very important if you want to find something good. The ideal spot will be where no one has previously detected anything. That way you are not scanning through the place that has already been picked clean. Some great sites to start are:

  1. High traffic areas: Areas like parks, schools, fairgrounds and sports grounds. People are continuously losing stuff there are you can find some great valuables in these areas.
  2. The beach: The same thing goes at the beaches as well. The beach is one of my favorite areas for hunting. I have found old coins, jewelry, and even some great artifacts washed up on some beaches.
  3. Old grounds: If you know some place of historical importance, it is a great place to start. A quick google search can tell you the best areas to start.

Keep your expectations reasonable

One thing that most beginners do is expect too much from their first few hunts. Keep your expectations reasonable. Even Indiana Jones did not find anything on his first ever expedition! That being said, it is completely plausible that you might end up stumbling upon a great treasure as well on the first ever try! That’s the beauty of metal detecting that draws so many people to it. But just remember to think smart. Try to envision the site and predict the areas with more probability of finding something. Having a plan is always better than just wandering aimlessly. It is every bit true for a hunt as it is for life in general.

Even Indiana Jones did not find anything on his first ever expedition!

Know the laws

This is perhaps one of the most important things to keep in mind while metal detecting. As a rule of thumb, avoid detecting on private properties. If you do plan to detect there, ask for a written permission from the owner to avoid any future complications. Public properties are a different issue altogether. I have detected at several beaches and parks with no problem. But I have been asked to leave from some areas as well and I did leave. It is better to know the statutory laws in your areas before you start on an expedition.

Safety Comes First

Safety comes first. Always detect during the day. I would strongly avoid hunting during the nights. Also, make sure that if you are alone, never advertise your finds to strangers. I mean it is quite obvious but I tell you from experience. I did make this mistake where I told a perfect stranger that I thought that I had found some precious coin. Needless to say, I don’t have it now. Anyway, stay alerted and keep your finds to yourself.

I couldn’t be more excited that you have stuck around and want to get into this great adventurous hobby of metal detecting. I love detecting and would encourage you to explore this fascinating area yourself. Trust me, it won’t takes long for you to find something great and the moment you do, you will never look back! Until the next time, happy hunting and the very best luck!